N.J. Pol: Poker Nets Should Ante Up

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Poker programming on cable networks could be abetting an uptick in compulsive gambling among teens, so those networks should chip in for anti-gambling messages, said a New Jersey state legislator.

“Cable television channels that heavily promote the Texas Hold ’Em rage should be held responsible for some of the unglamorous side effects of their programming, like juvenile gambling additions,” Assemblywoman Joan Voss (D-Fort Lee) said in a statement.

She cited statistics from the New Jersey Council on Compulsive Gambling. Data, based on calls for help to the council’s 1-800-GAMBLER line, indicates problem gambling among card players has increased seven fold between 2003 and 2004.

Anecdotal evidence — tales of high schoolers expelled for gambling or arrested for maxing out the credit cards of others to fuel a poker habit — indicate the number of youths at risk is growing, she noted.

Voss wants information on compulsive gambling included in the state’s core health-education curriculum, along with information on the dangers of drugs, alcohol, tobacco and steroids.

She noted that Atlantic City casinos ante up $600,000 for anti-gambling programs. Voss proposes a surcharge placed on nets with gambling programming, with language that would prevent operators from passing through the levy to subscribers.

The bill could target nets such as ESPN (home to World Series of Poker), Travel Channel (World Poker Tour) and Bravo (Celebrity Poker Showdown), she said.

Executives with Discovery Networks U.S., the parent company of Travel Channel, declined to comment on the New Jersey proposal.

In a statement, ESPN said the sports network does not condone irresponsible or excessive gambling. A Bravo network representative added its celebrity-studded tournaments are for entertainment only, and the winnings on the show are donated to charity.

“So far, (Celebrity Poker Showdown) has provided $2.5 million to worthy charities around the world,” a Bravo statement said.

Voss, a former teacher, said that is not enough. “It is hypocritical for cable networks to expect their celebrity participants to exhibit generosity and social responsibility through charitable donation than refuse to aid kids who need help with gambling problems.”

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